Monday, October 27, 2008

Time, Money, Calories

As I write this, the Dow has just plunged to its latest lowest low, which means the small amount of money I have managed to squirrel away for our retirement has evaporated. Unemployment is up; the price of oil is threatening to force many families to choose between food and heating this winter, and there is general discussion that our country is on the verge of another Great Depression. Somehow, this made me want to shop for a pair of Uggs.

I have a pair of very nice fake ugglike boots—Merrills, which are more practical but not as cute. But recently, I’ve been seized with the idea that I absolutely need a pair of real Uggs. Six weeks ago, I gave birth to my second child, and even though much of my pregnancy weight is gone, I am still carrying around a good (okay, exactly) 13.5 pounds more than I had on me the day I married my husband. So I rationalize, now is certainly not the time to buy new items for any body parts north of my ankles, both because I hope soon not to fit into that new pair of jeans I would buy today; and because, like most people I know, my family lives from paycheck to paycheck with not enough to make the expenses we have, let alone the $800 bill we just received for repairs to our car. (This because we let our two year old daughter “drive” the car while we unloaded groceries; when we returned, she had taken all the quarters we keep next to the stick shift (for easy access to our town’s meters) and dropped them one by one into the CD player.) Clothes are so out of the question in terms of importance in our budget that we are still wearing the ones we bought in the early 90’s. But somehow today, the thought crossed my mind that Uggs would be just what I needed to give me a quick pick-me-up. They will fit in spite of the vicissitudes of my waistline. So I went on EBay to see if there were any candidates in my size. (Seven and a half, in case anyone out there has an old pair they want to sell me.)

I was breast-feeding at the time, sitting on our couch in the middle of the day. I’ve arranged my life so that the morning belongs to my daughter, the afternoon is when I work as a life coach, the evening is when I run writing groups and go out to perform with my sister as one half of The Nields, and occasionally make contact with my wonderful and long-suffering husband. But the middle of the day—from about 11am to 2pm—is mine. Or it used to be. It used to be when Lila took her nap, but now it’s the time when Lila gets dumped into her crib along with all of her dolls and her stuffed animal menagerie plus five or ten children’s books to keep her occupied while I race downstairs, make myself something healthy and quick, and eat it while I hang out with my seven-week-old son, Johnny. He snoozes for part of it, but mostly I feed him, dandle him, stare into his big blue eyes, kiss his soft chubby cheeks and read him articles from the New York Times online.

Or occasionally shop online. Of course, there were hundreds of pairs of Uggs in my size, but not my price range of $10-$15. Instead, they came in at around $100. I found a pair that were up for their bidding time in 7 minutes. I started to type my name and numbers into the screen when I suddenly remembered the car payment bill. Also, I remembered my principles, my new hungry family, our limited income, my general desire to de-clutter our house and not bring anything new into it and the fact that when Uggs first hit the streets a few years ago I vowed I would never ever be seen in anything so useless and trendy. I navigated away from the page and went back to obsessively poking around the RealClearPolitics sight to see if Obama’s numbers had changed at all. The baby on my breast started squirming and fussing. Absentmindedly, I rocked him, but he just fussed more. I picked him up and looked him in the face. As soon as I gave him my full attention, he stopped grunting like a little groundhog and instead gave me one of his drunken lopsided grins. I suddenly thought, “When I go to heaven, St. Peter will say, ‘Why should we let you in? You had heaven on earth with those two charming kids, and instead of enjoying them, you spent all your time reading minutae on the Internet. Get lost.’”

Having a child was a huge change for Tom and me. We used to be two single self-employed artists whose biggest concern (besides bone-chilling loneliness) was whether to spend Thursday morning writing in our journals at the Haymarket or going to an Anusara yoga class. After Lila was born, we had to negotiate who would be with her, and who was going to be working to bring home the (local, organic) bacon. Now, with two, it’s who will be on bath duty, who on kitchen clean up and how are we going to juggle the baby while attempting to follow the story lines Lila has concocted for the family of dolls in her dollhouse. Most evenings, I collapse in bed with my infant son, who won’t go to sleep unless I am lying next to him in our (dark, silent) room. I have about forty-five minutes a day—on a good day—to advance my agenda: to “get things done.” By “getting things done” I mean taking a shower, putting in and taking out my contacts, doing the never ending loads of laundry, cooking our meals, shopping for our food (and ecologically friendly laundry detergent), and last but definitely not least, getting some exercise so I can lose those 13.5 pounds.

I find myself bartering with myself constantly: if I walk to the store with Lila in the stroller and Johnny in the front pack, that means Johnny naps now, which means I won’t be able to count on it later, which means I won’t be able to pay our bills online today. But it will mean that I’ll burn about 80 calories, which means I can have a mango for dessert tonight. Mangoes are $1.50 each, which is more than an apple right now—apples are more like $1, unless they’re Honeycrisps, in which case they’re more like $2. And if I walk with Lila in the stroller, I can’t hear her talking very easily and therefore can’t interact with her well, so it’s not really “quality time”—maybe instead I should just take her to the park, but that will mean I’ll have to skip my own naptime tomorrow if I want to get to the grocery store. And we’re out of diaper wipes.

In other words, I’m in a constant matrix of time, money and calories. Each day, I have a certain number to spend, a certain number budgeted out. We all do. And it’s been occurring to me recently that many of us have the same kind of amnesiac disconnect that I experienced today over the Uggs when it comes to these three daily “goods” we’re all given. Everyone now knows we’ve botched our finance markets, both nationally and personally--the average American is in debt and lives in a kind of delusion of credit. We’ve got an obesity epidemic as well as a seriously distorted BMI ideal that fuels our insidious $100 billion a year dieting industry. And we are a notoriously busy nation, taking an average of 13 vacation days a year (France takes 37; Italy a whopping 42!) So I am not alone in my journey through this matrix. And, like many of us, I have always thought of myself as a particularly good navigator: I am in good health, physically and financially, usually fit and trim, solvent and something of a time management specialist. As a life coach, it’s my job to help other people with these three issues, among other things. But recently I’ve added three balls to my juggling act: Lila, Johnny, and for lack of a better term, the desire to be a good steward of my corner of the earth. There are lots of ways to save time and money and calories if one is willing to trash the planet: in no particular order: disposable diapers, driving to the supermarket instead of biking or walking, drying clothes in a clothes dryer, using a non-stick spray like Pam, buying groceries at Costco or Wal-Mart, working out on a treadmill instead of bundling up and going for a jog…the list seems to grow daily in my head as I try to be “good.” And mostly, I fall short. I hung one load of laundry out to dry in the wooden drying rack I freecycled last summer, but mostly I’ve been too lazy, or the weather hasn’t co-operated and I end up using the dryer. But I have decided to write a book in the hopes that through my struggles and attempts at being not the supermom of the 80s who was all things to all people including a sexy (skinny) wife at the end of the day, nor the Blackberry-wielding organizational powerhouse mom of this decade but just Lila and Johnny’s completely imperfect mother, Tom’s daydreamingly frustrating wife and the musician/writer I’ve grown into over the last 41 years, I can help some other new mom or anyone who has extremely limited time and money and wants to lose a little weight in the bargain. Even if the reader gets helped by putting the book down and saying, “Well, clearly THAT doesn’t work.”

If any readers out there have anecdotes on the topic, I welcome them! This book is for new parents and anyone else facing a period (or lifetime) of extremely thin resources. I hope to create a clearinghouse of stories and ideas to inspire us on the journey.

1 comment:

rhiannon said...


I think that a lot of us without children are having similar issues of money being stretched thin, as of late. I've really started noticing how much the price of groceries has gone up, and couple that with the upswing (though thankfully a recent downswing) in gas and other daily costs, and my paycheck just doesn't go as far as I feel it should. I make 2.5 times the poverty level, and *still* have trouble making ends meet. What does that say for the large population who make less than I?

But the thing that has gotten to me recently is the articles about how people are cutting back. They have stories of people having to move into smaller houses, getting rid of their lawn care service, getting rid of their SUVs, eating out less, etc....

I live in an apartment, have no lawn, drive a Kia, and cook dinner 95% of the time. So once again I come back to... if I'm struggling, I hate to think of the population who makes less than I do.